Over the course of the past few seasons, the Green Bay Packers have consistently put a productive offensive unit out onto the field. No matter if it was in the scorching heat or the blistering cold, the Packers have rarely had problems offensively. While doing so, they have also established a sound reputation as one of the most prolific passing teams in the National Football League. In the midst of all of that was the fact that; during most of the Aaron Rodgers years, the Packers have significantly lacked much of a rushing attack.
For years now, many of Aaron Rodgers' Sundays (or Thursday or Monday nights) consisted of lacing up his shoes, tossing on his yellow helmet, jogging out of the tunnel and completely obliterating his opponent's defensive secondary. It became routine, and almost weekly tradition that these offensive marauds occurred every single time the he hit the field. A lot of times, Coach Mike McCarthy would draw up the slants, which set up the occasional long bomb, and games were won. It became second nature for the Packers to throw the ball. Everything was all right with the world.
Even with all of McCarthy's and the Packers' success heavily relying on what worked in the past, one thing that has always eluded the Pack in one way or another was the presence of a consistent running game.
The cries to establish the ground has not fallen on deaf ears throughout the years. Ted Thompson and company certainly have done things here and there to get this facet of the Packer offense up and running again. Ryan Grant was a valuable piece in the reestablishing years leading up to the Super Bowl, but he was the last 1,000 yard rusher in Green Bay, that was in 2009 (1,253). Since then, its been mostly committee duty, but that has staggered recently.
Having a 1,000-yard rusher certainly means a lot for an offense but it isn't the end-all, be-all definition of what a good ground game is. Moving the ball effectively is all it's about. To this point, that is what is hindering the Packers and is why teams like San Francisco are continuing to go deep into the playoffs consistently. James Starks was an effective runner before during the Super Bowl run, but since then the rushing well has run dry. A bright spot late last season was DuJuan Harris, who is averaging nearly five yards per carry. While he hasn't posted a 100-yard game yet, he is favored because he runs the ball effectively and has been excellent in getting the line of scrimmage close enough for a good chance to move the chains.
The Packers have had some tough luck recently as well. Devastating injuries to guys like Starks, Grant, Cedric Benson, Alex Green and countless others have been a main cause of the constant setbacks of the development of this rushing attack. The offensive line has also been a continuous struggle as well, and the positions go hand-in-hand in creating an effective running game. Other teams have caught on to this and it has shown on the field. Without a sound running attack, the Packers are often one-dimensional by the second quarter and are therefore susceptible to exploitation.
As mentioned before, Ted Thompson has heard the world's cries to establish a running game -- and has probably done some crying of his own -- and it showed when he drafted not one, but two running backs in April's draft. The two backs are Eddie Lacy, the 238-pound bruiser and the slender Johnathan Franklin, who weighs in at a lean 205 pounds. The two are second and fourth round selections, respectively and are expected to light a fire underneath their incumbent counterparts as they compete for jobs themselves. There are now five backs but that number is likely to be slashed down to three when it is all said and done.
Mike McCarthy understands that getting the ball rolling on the ground is necessary in aiding his quarterback if they want to continue to be able to continue their offensive onslaughts through the air. He told the Journal Sentinel that it is paramount in keeping defenses on their toes.
Running the football, trust me, it's important. Would I like to do more of it? Yes. Will it help the quarterback driven emphasis? Absolutely. The best quarterbacks are always complemented by a good run game. And we haven't been good enough there.
As far as his personnel running the ball, McCarthy sees that there is an significant upgrade from what he had last year. The unique thing about this particular group is that there isn't just one kind of rusher taking the ball. This group has both speed and power and will be able to mix it up as the year goes on.
Well, we feel like we've addressed the position, and we've definitely upgraded the competition in that room. There's young personnel there that we're all excited about, and I'm not just talking about the rookie class. I'm talking all the way through. It's a young group. There's a ton of competition. There's a lot of diversity.
One of the key things that McCarthy established in his statements was that this is a quarterback-driven football team. No matter what happens at the running back position, McCarthy knows that it will only be complementary of what they do as a passing team.
But our job as coaches is to utilize our personnel and ultimately to play to a team identity. And this is a quarterback driven football team. It has been in my time and has been for decades here and it works. So that's what we stay in tune with.
Aaron Rodgers doesn't mind running the ball a little more, but only as long as it results in wins, as he tells ESPN Wisconsin's Jason Wilde:
If we can run the ball more effectively, it can only help us when we’re trying to get those one-on-one matchups outside. We have game-breakers outside, and it’d be nice to have some consistent game-breakers inside.
While running the ball consistently and effectively has been an issue for a few years now, it is not just a back-burner issue. The offensive line will be key in getting this ground game going. Zone blocking is something that Mike McCarthy has been heavily reliant on during his time here and consistent blocking will be just as important as anything else in getting the ground game... off the ground.